ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast – African leaders backed an arms embargo against Ivory Coast (search), where thousands of Westerners are fleeing anti-foreigner violence, giving approval to a U.N. Security Council (search) vote on sanctions that could come as early as Monday.
The African leaders also backed other U.N. sanctions against Ivory Coast on Sunday, isolating President Laurent Gbagbo's (search) hard-line government even further in its deadly confrontation with its former colonial ruler, France.
The arms embargo "should be immediate," Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo — the current African Union chairman — said.
As a French-led evacuation of Ivory Coast builds to one of Africa's largest, French President Jacques Chirac denounced Gbagbo's "questionable regime."
"We do not want to allow a system to develop that would lead only to anarchy or a regime of a fascist nature," Chirac told an audience in the southern French city of Marseille.
Presidents from Nigeria, Senegal, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Togo and Gabon, meeting in the Nigerian capital of Abuja backed a draft U.N. Security Council resolution calling for an arms embargo, a travel ban and asset freezes against anyone blocking peace in Ivory Coast.
Gbagbo's representative at the talks, parliamentary leader Mamadou Koulibaly, condemned the call for sanctions and complained African leaders had slighted him — barring him from most of the talks and dinner.
One of his aides, speaking on condition he not be identified, warned that other countries should "come and collect their foreigners from Ivory Coast — because if there's an embargo we can't live with them anymore."
In Abidjan, French civilians and other foreigners sprawled on camp beds set up in the airport departure lounge while waiting to be evacuated. A handful of heavily armed U.S. Marines stood ready to assist French troops.
The Netherlands' ambassador to the Ivory Coast and three staff members were evacuated, and the Dutch Embassy closed, the Dutch foreign ministry said Sunday. All Dutch citizens were advised to leave.
France's heavy criticism and African mediation efforts come after a five-day spate of anti-foreigner rampages last week that sent Westerners and Africans fleeing a nation that once was stable and prosperous and the pride of France's former West African empire.
Ivory Coast's latest crisis began when Gbagbo's military broke a more than year-old cease-fire in the country's 2-year-old civil war with airstrikes on the rebel-held north.
Warplanes bombed a French peacekeeping post in the north on Nov. 6, killing nine French peacekeepers and an American aid worker.
France wiped out Ivory Coast's newly built-up small air force on the tarmac. The retaliation unleashed a violent loyalist uprising, with Gbagbo-allied Young Patriots popular militia leading looting, burning and attacks that targeted the French.
No deaths have been reported among non-African foreigners, though France says attackers raped several expatriates.
The Associated Press and hospitals confirmed at least 17 deaths in the rioting, all or most among Ivorians. Gbagbo's government claims 62 of its supporters were killed, many of them when French forces opened fire on anti-French demonstrations in Abidjan.
On Sunday, a few dozen Young Patriots manned roadblocks around Gbagbo's lagoon-side mansion and maintained a vigil outside nearby state broadcasting offices. Fearing an overthrow attempt by France, the Gbagbo-allied militia have called for a "human shield" around the two sites until French forces leave the country.
Chirac said the 4,000 French peacekeepers would remain, alongside a more than 6,000-man U.N. peace force.
Gbagbo late Saturday put hard-liner Col. Maj. Philippe Mangou in charge of the country's military, in a move likely to anger both France and much of Gbagbo's own army. It was Mangou who oversaw the air campaign that reopened Ivory Coast's civil war and opened the confrontation with France.
Gbagbo fired a popular moderate, Gen. Mathias Doue, from the top job — risking angering much of his army.
Most of the more than 4,000 Westerners who have left by Sunday are French, but they also include hundreds of British, American, Spanish, Dutch, Lebanese and other nationals. Private companies have evacuated an additional 470 of their employees.